For years we have called the public’s attention to the way Methuen elections are structured to subvert democracy and keep political insiders in power. This year’s upcoming municipal elections are a perfect example of how this system discourages voter participation in elections and needs to change.
First, Methuen has a deadline for potential candidates to get nomination papers from city hall. That deadline is in the dead of summer when most average people are on vacation and not thinking at all about the upcoming November election for mayor, city council, or school committee. Other towns don’t have this, voters can take out nomination papers up to the day of the deadline to turn them in for certification.
In Methuen, if you don’t take out nomination papers by the mid-summer date, you can’t run for office in Methuen. Period.
Secondly, Methuen has what we call “the incumbent protection act” where they cancel primary elections if there aren’t enough candidates to eliminate for the November final.
But, eliminating candidates is not the only reason to hold primaries.
They also provide a vehicle for more candidates to participate. In other communities, if residents don’t like the slate of candidates who have taken out papers, they can run a write-in campaign on the primary ballot. If they get at least 50 write-in votes (more in some cities) their name will appear on the November ballot. This means incumbents who thought they were going to run unopposed, now have to raise and spend money, knock on doors, and actually talk to voters to retain power in office.
But, since Methuen cancels primaries when there aren’t enough candidates to “eliminate” there is no mechanism for voters to upset the political insiders with a write in campaign. We have long argued that this system was specifically designed to stop voters from participating in local elections. It 100% ensures that more incumbents will remain in office.
Given how adamant Methuen voters have been about imposing term limits to stop the insiders from holding power too long, it’s more than strange that they blindly accept election rules which specifically eliminate competition.
This year, the mayor, school committee, and four incumbent City Councilors are running unopposed and there is no way to get them out.
If this was Lawrence, Haverhill, or even North Andover, any voter could mount a last-minute write-in or sticker campaign challenge to unseat at least one of those officials. At the very least it makes them campaign to keep their job. But, not in Methuen.
This year, Mayor Perry, Councilors Ziegler, Saba, McCarty, and Faretra as well as the school committee, have already been elected.
It’s now impossible for them to lose in November.
That’s like not having an election at all.
This needs to change and it’s clear that the current insiders have no interest in changing it. That means the voters need to force their hand. It’s up to the people of Methuen to put a stop to all of this and start a citizen petition.
Are there no real leaders in Methuen willing to step up to the plate?
So far, the answer has been “no”.